In just 1 hour, the sun produces more energy than all nations produce in 1 year. Solar power is arguably the most under-utilized source of renewable energy. However, the narrative is slowly changing. Overall the East African region has seen a dramatic rise in solar PV adoption.

Here are the stats for the region as of October 2019:

Uganda 50MW
Tanzania 6MW
Kenya 56MW

Raphael Osoro joined us on the Africa Water and Energy Podcast to highlight how you can get adopting residential solar thermal and photovoltaic (PV) systems. Key sections of the podcast include:

  • Why solar power is taking off so quickly in Africa
  • A quick differentiation between Solar Thermal and Solar PV
  • The major steps in setting up Solar PV or thermal for your home
  • Considerations to make before and after installation
  • Some of the arising challenges and solutions

Why solar power is taking off so quickly in Africa

We’ve continuously seen the cost of solar panels drop as efficiency steadily increases. This progressive change, which is coming at the back of the rising cost of oil, is making solar a cost-effective solution for homes.

In Kenya for instance, innovative financing options like M-Kopa Solar are using available mobile services to help people take up solar and pay off slowly.

Solar thermal and Solar PV aren’t the same thing

Solar PV is represented by the flat, dark and shiny panels we see commonly on people’s rooftops

In brief, the working principle of Solar PV is that it converts a portion of sunlight into electricity by exciting tiny particles in the panels (called electrons) which flow, creating an electrical current.

Solar thermal, on the other hand, is either represented by dark cylindrical tubes or dull and flat panels. These tubes and panels might have an attached cylindrical tank. A telltale sign of this system will be the water pipes coming from the panels and connected to a storage tank

The working principle entails transferring the sun’s heat to water that flows through the tubes or panels.

When it comes to pricing, solar thermal systems will often be cheaper than solar PV panels

The experts needed to install solar systems

Ideally in Kenya, you should deal with solar technicians licensed by the Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority (EPRA).

Other technical expertise you should consider having include:

  • Someone with knowledge of conducting residential energy audits – this can be a Certified Energy Manager (CEM), an energy engineer of a licensed energy auditor
  • An experienced plumber or electrician for wiring. As much as solar thermal mainly deals with water, you might need to install heating elements or a heat pump as a backup source of water heating

The major steps in installing Solar PV or Solar Thermal for your home

A few pointers to follow are:

  1. Conduct an energy audit to understand your residential electricity or hot water requirements
  2. Identify the major energy consumers and put in place measures to ensure they run more efficiently
  3. Together with the technicians, decide on the installation size that will be sufficient for you
  4. Let the technicians produce a detailed design of the setup. Ensure it meets your design and financial requirements
  5. Proceed with the installation

Things to keep in mind before and after installation

As much as possible:

  • Identify the major energy consumers and find ways to optimize their consumption
  • Ensure the installation adheres to the agreed design. You should also have a commissioning stage to ensure everything works as expected
  • Have a maintenance schedule that gets handled by qualified personnel

The challenges and solutions around residential solar installations

Relatively low awareness

Many people still perceive solar to be for off-grid communities. However, solar solutions are offering more competitive returns on investment. With more awareness of the benefits, as well as demonstrations of use cases, homeowners will gain the confidence to invest

Counterfeit products

There are cases of counterfeit products making their way into local African markets. Homeowners are often left with a bad taste in their mouths after seeing the lackluster performance of these fake products. The various regulatory bodies, therefore, need to pull up their socks in fighting counterfeit products.

Source: Podcast by Warren Ondanje

E12 Implementing Residential Solar Thermal and PV to increase Cost Savings and cut on Grid Dependence